Other schools offering materialsSchools that are not part of the consortium also provide open courses. Since 2006, Yale University in New Haven, Conn., has offered courses through its Open Yale program. Currently, Yale offers 15 free college courses online.
Yale's closed-captioning courses include several disciplines and departments such as astronomy, biomedical engineering, classics, economics and finance. All are formatted for video, audio and text transcript.
"In this increasingly global world, we think it is important that we share our academic treasures worldwide for all who wish to learn," says Diana Kleiner, director of Open Yale Courses and Dunham professor of history of art and classics.
The university plans to add 10 more courses in the fall in six new subject areas and departments. Learners in more than 190 countries worldwide are accessing the courses provided by Yale, says Kleiner.
"We are finding that high school students and their parents do access these courses to find out more about college in general and about what kind of courses are taught in Yale College," Kleiner says.
The University of Washington Educational Outreach, which is the professional and continuing education unit of the school, offers a series of 11 free mini-courses through Open UW. These courses cover subjects such as Shakespeare, nutrition and the history of jazz in New Orleans.
The program was launched in 2002 and since then has registered 32,000 users. Unlike some Internet course programs -- which simply put notes and syllabi from classroom lectures online -- Open UW courses were designed specifically for the Web.
"A good online course is much more than lecture notes or course syllabi put up on the Web," Szatmary says. "A good online course has been specifically designed for online delivery and incorporates interactive elements such as videos, podcasts and quizzes. It might include online forums and discussion rooms."
UW's mission is to increase access to a university education for all and to promote lifelong learning, Szatmary says.
He believes online courses are a great resource for working professionals. Students can start them at any time, which means they are "tailor-made for working adults with busy lives," he says.
"They help people connect with professional communities of learners all over the country without the need to travel in this time of shrinking budgets," he says.